It is a truth universally acknowledged that an indie musician in possession of a guitar and a lyrical bent must, at some point, release their ‘punk album’ (hi, The Cribs). ‘Twelve Nudes’ is Ezra Furman’s. It is also, among other things, one of the best blatantly queer rock albums in years. That’s a mighty call, but we’re pretty sure we can stand by it.
First though, the other threads on ‘Twelve Nudes’ (the pun wasn’t intended, but we’re keeping it. Sorry.) ‘Rated R Crusaders’ looks at the complex web of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Jewish identity and the pain of refugees, while ‘Trauma’ fires shots at the wealthy bullies and sexual predators lording it over a society filled with their victims. The latter as a title is telling, as ‘Twelve Nudes’ is about varying types of trauma. Throughout, Ezra explores the emotional toll of political issues and the impact of living politicised lives. But this is not an album about being crushed under the sole of a boot - it is about throwing the boot off your throat. ‘Evening Prayer aka Justice’ is Ezra’s tender call to action, for those with “a taste for transcendence” to join the fight for good. Then there’s the Nirvana-esque ‘Blown’ with its opening shriek of “trans power”.
Which brings us back to the queerness. Though, of course, it has been here all along. As with much of Ezra’s output, ‘Twelve Nudes’ is coloured by the experience of being not-straight and not-cis. The whole album is shot through with it, but on ‘I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend’ Ezra addresses the experience more explicitly than before. Think 1950s diner aesthetic, think milkshakes and rollerskates and watching your peers achieve regular adult milestones while you turn the idea of a name change over and over in your mind. ‘I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend’ is one of the great trans songs - whatever transness or gender non-conformity means for the beholder. Then there is also ‘My Teeth Hurt’, possibly the first absolute banger about dental issues to enter the canon, and with references to body dysphoria and disassociation (gender-related or otherwise) embedded in a punk rock earworm.
So, yes ‘Twelve Nudes’ is a pushback against an increasingly devastating world, a call for all like-minded people to rise up together against oppressive forces. It hones in on survivors of sexual assault, on refugees, on people who share Ezra’s Jewish identity - but if you are queer or gender non-conforming, it also seems to say look, here is a song for you. In a time when transphobia abounds, it’s difficult to overstate what a joy that is.